In 2011, the women of Egypt pushed Hosni Mubarak out of power. One of those women was Sanaa El-Seif, who at the time was 17 years old. She moved to Tahrir Square, with friends. With a fellow classmate, Ziad Tareq, she created a space in which to produce a regular newspaper, for distribution in and beyond Tahrir Square. In so doing, Sanaa El-Seif pulled together and then retied all sorts of insurgent and revolutionary trains: feminist organizing cultures, women’s organizing cultures, youth organizing cultures. Centuries of revolutionary broadsheets, reading clubs, manifestoes, samizdat, night schools, you name it, came together in the work of Sanaa El-Seif.
Mubarak left office. The world media, by and large, left Tahrir Square, except for those regular moments of implosion, and Sanaa El-Seif stayed. She stayed as so many women have, to push the revolution forward, to materialize real transformation in Egypt now.
Sanaa El-Seif, now 19, says it simply and directly: Staying matters. This is not about disputes between exiles and those who stayed in whatever site. It is about staying with the energies of change, staying with the promises of building autonomous transformative spaces, communities, nation, and worlds.
Today is January 25, 2012, two years later. Two years is a short time and an impossibly long one as well. Many debate today the progress and the reversals of `Egypt’ since Tahrir Square became, for a short while, the center of a universe.
In the last year, women have assessed the situation on the ground and have organized, and continue to organize. A national women’s movement is slowly but decidedly taking place, at times quite publically, at other times in the shadows. But the point is that it’s a national women’s movement, one that was in many ways impossible prior to 2011 because of the State ideological and surveillance apparatuses.
Women whose names gained prominence in the 2011 Tahrir manifestations are still there, today, in the marches and protests. Women like Mona Seif, co-founder of the No To Military Trials For Civilians campaign. Seif has been challenging the military at every step, and, even more, has been challenging and attacking the militarization of civil society, of State, of intimate spaces, of everything. That challenge to militarization emerges from and returns to decades of Egyptian women and feminist thinkers and activists, such as Doria Shafik and, of course, Nawal el Saadawi.
Every day women including Nehad Abul Komsan, director of the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights; union activist organizer and leader Abir Ibrahim; Mozn Hassan, Director of Nazra Center for Feminist Studies; women’s rights activists Yara Sallam and Asmaa Gomaa; `revolutionary-turned-activist’ Nada Wahid; women graffiti artists Aya Tarek and Hend Kheera; and anti-violence organizer Eba’a El-Tamami work to create new spaces, new publics, for women, for autonomy, for freedom and power, for dreaming and doing.
Someone recently described the `Woman in the Blue Brassiere’ as “all too actual, real, and bodily, not just a symbol, but a flesh-and-blood human being who becomes virtual and goes viral, returning within a few days to haunt the real space of Tahrir Square as the banner of the Egyptian women’s movement.”
She does not haunt. She stays. The work of the revolution stays as it moves forward and expands, under the banner of the Egyptian women’s movement. Tahrir means liberation. Ask the women.